An ode to eastern Washington’s trees on the state Capitol campus

By: - May 9, 2023 5:01 am
A meadow of Lupine and Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers is seen at the foot of a Ponderosa Pine forest.

A meadow of lupine and arrowleaf balsamroot flowers is seen at the base of a ponderosa pine forest near Thorp, Washington. A new law could add a ponderosa pine and other eastern Washington trees to the Capitol grounds in Olympia. (Getty Images)

There are many things that differentiate eastern Washington from the western part of the state: political leanings, geography, weather. But a new law promises to bring a dash of life from east of the Cascades here to Olympia. 

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law last week that outlines plans for a “cultural landscape feature” on the Capitol gounds, intended to highlight eastern Washington’s plants and trees. The law specifies that the display should “celebrate the unique beauty of eastern Washington, its unparalleled agricultural significance to the state and world, and the deep history of these lands.”

Originally, the legislation called for an eastern Washington “memorial” but it was quickly amended, as memorials on campus are typically for those who have died, such as one honoring residents who lost their lives in World War II.

Eastern Washington Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, a self-proclaimed tree enthusiast, sponsored the bill. 

The Capitol campus has trees from around the world and western Washington, Kretz told a Senate committee in March. “But I always felt like there was one thing missing,” he said. “There really isn’t a species that typifies eastern Washington.”

The law suggests types of trees that the feature might include – such as ponderosa pine, quaking aspen and western larch – some of Kretz’s favorites. 

An apple tree, right, outside the Washington State Legislative Building serves as a representation of eastern Washington. A new law will create a landscape feature with eastern Washington trees to commemorate the east side of the state. (Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard)

But, Kretz said, the bill intentionally includes some flexibility on tree species to ensure the ones chosen can survive in western Washington’s wetter and milder climate. He emphasized that eastern Washingtonians don’t want to be represented by “a bunch of sickly trees.” 

The State Capitol Committee must work with the Department of Enterprise Services and the Department of Natural Resources on the landscape feature. The law also sets up a new account that can accept gifts, grants or endowments to help pay for the feature. 

State horticulturist Brent Chapman told lawmakers that the proposed landscape feature fits into the campus vision of highlighting species from across the state. Currently, an apple tree outside of an entrance to the Legislative building represents eastern Washington. 

Planting more species from the region could help to increase tree diversity on the grounds, Chapman said, adding that eastern Washington’s landscape is “very dynamic.” 

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Laurel Demkovich
Laurel Demkovich

Laurel joined States Newsroom in 2023 after almost three years as a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She covers state government, the Legislature and all other Olympia news.